One-Punch Man 105-109 – Manga Review

Synopsis: Saitama one day decided to abandon chasing the life of a salary man and instead work towards becoming a hero. Years later he grew so strong that there’s no villain that can stand against him, for he finishes every single fight with just. one. punch!

 

(Warning: Spoilers to Follow)

Monsters have begun showing up across the globe, causing all sorts of havoc. Things take a dire turn as not only do the heroes have to contend with a wave of monsters, but Garo, the hero killer. However, just as the heroes close in around Garo, it appears the Monster Association, the horrible beings behind the attacks across the globe, have other plans for the great and deadly hero killer.

Review:

One-Punch Man 105-109 exemplify how the series has devolved into what I might call ‘comfort food’ manga. Rarely offensive, only occasionally displaying its chops for parody that made it so popular at the start, yet still filled with plenty of fun action and fantastic art, One-Punch Man has shifted into something altogether comfortable, familiar, fun to read every few weeks, but hardly a title that has me on the edge of my seat, dying for the release of its next chapter. Let’s Jump in!

Chapters 105-109 are the perfect point at which to talk about this transformation as each of these chapters exhibits a little bit of what One-Punch Man has turned into. These days One-Punch Man is largely heroes kicking easy ass, with brief glimpses of our titular character reminding us why we fell in love with his story in the first place.

Starting with Chapter 105 we predominantly focus on Tornado, who is single-handedly kicking Gyoro Gyoro’s, mastermind behind the Monster Association’s, ass. The problem with Tornado, or really any of the S-Rank heroes that have made such short work of the monsters they’ve tackled in this arc, is that they make the existence of Saitama feel superfluous. Saitama finishes every fight with One-Punch, making short-work of cool villains as they’re obliterated by his overwhelming might. While Tornado, Fang, Atomic Samutai, Zombieman, Watchdog, etc. may not end fights in such an anti-climatic and ridiculous fashion they’ve still proven to be insurmountable even in the face of the series’ baddest of bads. It almost makes Saitama’s presence feel pointless, as each of these heroes already faces no contest.

That said, it’s Saitama’s characterization that reminds me what makes One-Punch Man still so fun, even if fleetingly. 106 sees Saitama come face to face with Orochi, the false leader and ultimate fighter of the Monster Association. Saitama’s flippant attitude and matter of fact response to Orochi’s pontificating is one aspect of the series that still shines strong. Even when you know the outcome, it’s still fun to watch as Saitama confronts these mighty foes. It helps that the art is, as always, incredible. Murata truly out does himself whenever the battle requires it, and Saitama’s ‘brawl’ with Orochi is yet another display of epic art that makes these sequences shine even brighter.

But these moments don’t last long. Chapter 107 shifts the focus again back to Tornado for a bit of teasing as to Gyoro Gyoro’s secret identity (well, as she fillets him anyway,) then to Fang, Blizzard and Bomb, and finally to King for a bit of the classic King gag. A monster attempts to get the drop on him, only for a compounding number of misunderstandings to lead to the monster’s accidental and entirely stupid death. It’s this sequence that exemplifies One-Punch Man as a comfort food manga. The King joke is played out, and this subtle revision of it doesn’t breath enough life in it to be rib-tickling hilarious, but just enough to offer a sensible chuckle. It’s decent, not incredible, rarely awful, fun, forgettable humor. That’s kinda how the series feels as a whole, never truly dull, never truly incredible, just good, easy-going predictable fun.

108 then exemplifies my frustration with how underutilized the baddies are. We’ve got some truly bad ass designs, like G5 here. But Atomic Samurai takes him out near instantly, making this visual bad ass feel, well, like a chump. It’s the classic One-Punch Man subversion: bad ass baddies get wasted, weirdos are the actual, dangerous ones. We’ve even seen it utilized in this arc once already with Phoenix Man. The trouble is One-Punch Man draws from this well too frequently, and when we start up the same subversion with Black Sperm it’s hard to get excited about how formidable he might in fact be when it feels likely he’ll follow the same pattern as other monsters. There’s this lack of innovation and falling back on pattern that keeps One-Punch Man from feeling nearly as clever as it use to.

Again though, 109 then displays aspects of the series that hook me. The developments as Child Emperor learns that Waganma lied about another child having been kidnapped are great. We see Child Emperor get mad at the idea that he should just abandoned Tareo because he’s not the VIP target. The other heroes getting equally frustrated is great too. It all reminds me a bit of one of my favorite parts of the early chapters, where Saitama sacrificed his public standing to make sure the other heroes weren’t insulted by the general public for being so comparatively weak. It’s little character moments like that that I wish we’d see so much more of.

So where does the series go from here? One-Punch Man gained a following thanks to its subversive comedy. It still has that, on occasion, but more and more often apes what it once poked fun at. I talked before about how hard it is to keep parodies going because before too long you run out of things to lampoon, and you just end up becoming what you made fun of. I’m unfamiliar with the webcomic, but I have trouble imagining One-Punch Man could return to form without transplanting the genres it’s toying with. And at this point I’m not sure it really needs to do that either. I think the key is greater focus on its characters. If we could get more touching moments, more insight into its heroes, and the way their heroism and personality meshes with their everyday life, or their other values, it could really keep the series feeling unique and fun. As fun as it is to see Murata’s art on full blast whenever things get crazy, more subversive takes by One on our S-Rank heroes could help to instill deeper value in a series that simply isn’t as exiting as it once was. Here’s hoping we start to see a little more quirky character traits in the coming weeks, particularly once the Monster Association arc closes out.

Please do comment below on what you thought of the latest One-Punch Man Chapters!

One-Punch Man is published bi-weekly (sort of) in Shonen Jump.

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